When you’re applying to a job in the federal government, the most important thing you can do is read the instructions carefully. Highlight so that you catch all the important details, and follow the instructions exactly. This seems so simple, but is often overlooked by applicants. While the government began accepting standard resumes years ago, not all agencies will take them. Some still ask you to build your resume with the USAJobs tool. In either case, be sure you do the following things.

It’s All in the Details.

You must read all application requirements carefully, because some agencies require more detail than others. For example, you’ll only be considered for some jobs if you include a month, date, and year for past start and end dates. Some will tell you they won’t read certain sections of your application even if you include them. In this case, ensure relevant information is included elsewhere in your resume.


We all know that the federal government is the king of the Automatic Tracking System (ATS), which filters resumes based on keywords that come from a job description. You have to incorporate those terms in order to get through to be considered for a job. When it comes to your job descriptions, you don’t need to go overboard. Select specific examples of your work, particularly those that closely relate to the job to which you are applying. If you do not have quantitative or qualitative results to support your examples, ask yourself the end goal or purpose of each example. After you’ve composed each example, use a word cloud program such as Wordle to extrapolate key terms from a job posting. Weave those words into bullets and throughout the resume where appropriate. Don’t make the mistake of copying and pasting just to get past the ATS. If you do get through, a human will read your resume, and careless placements will disqualify you.

Additional Information.

When building your resume in USAJobs, this is where you should include technical skills, awards, and/or a short career profile that summarizes your skills (and bonus: increases the number of keywords in your document). You can also include anything that you want to make sure is on your resume but that didn’t apply to the other fields. If you’re using a standard resume, your career profile should go at the top of your resume directly under contact information.

  • Achievements and Awards: If you have honors and awards, you should, by all means, include them. These typically fall just after education toward the end of your document. Unlike a private sector resume, you can include honors such as time off awards and performance bonuses.
  • Language Skills: Rate your spoken, written, and reading ability in each language.
  • Affiliations: If you volunteer or belong to any professional associations or organizations, include them here. If you hold a specific role in any of them, include that too.

Before you even spend time applying to a federal job, make sure that you are eligible for it. The job description lists the qualifications, and you should ensure that your experience and education match very closely to what they are looking for. Otherwise, you are likely wasting your time. The ATS will filter you out before your application even gets the attention of a human. If you do meet the qualifications, these tips will help get your resume to the hiring manager’s desk.

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Marcelle Yeager helps people land jobs that get them to the next level of their career. Through her company Career Valet, she works with mid- to senior-level professionals on their branding strategy and job search materials to secure new roles. She co-founded a second business in 2015 called ServingTalent, where she finds jobs for talented military and Foreign Service spouses. Marcelle has spent over six years living and working abroad. She can be reached at myeager@careervalet.com.